Know the zari in your sari

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Nov 2017 11:49:48


By homai sagar,

With the price of gold /silver/ and even silk skyrocketing in the past one year, the zari in your Sari, which is an amalgam all these three is in real trouble. Zari bought by weavers in Kanchipuram or Benares comes in spools, (known as a marc of zari weighing 242 grams) about 19200 metres in length and with zari thread thickness of about point three millimeters!

Now in the last ten years (from 2005 to 2016) the price of gold has increased from Rs. 640 per gram to Rs. 2700 - Rs. 3000 a gm, silver from ten rupees a gram to Rs. 40, silk from Rs. 600 a kilo to Rs. 3600 a kilo and even copper has doubled from Rs. 210 a kilo to Rs. 400. Net result….. One marc of real pure gold zari which cost Rs. 3150 in 2005 , would cost nearly Rs. 12000 rupees plus today – in current prices-, as it should contain 55 to 57 percent of silver (130 gms - Rs. 4250) , 22 to 24 percent of silk ( 50 gms – Rs. 200 ), 20 to 22 percent of copper ( 50gms- Rs. 40 ) and between 0.59 percent to 0.60 percent of gold. (1.5gms- Rs. 4000) plus labour charges.

A normal Kancheepuram /Benarasi silk sari would comprise one mark of zari and would be woven, using a three-fold silk thread. In the famous Threads of Gold variety introduced in Diwali 2007, by the Karnataka Silk Industries Corporation Ltd (KSIC), each sari weighs more than 1.5 kilograms, 750 gms (more than three marcs) of which is the weight of the zari alone. The saris in this collection were priced by each sari’s total weight. And the price was high at Rs. 150 thousand and if sold in 2016 would be more than three lakhs each!.

When you choose a zari-silk from a sari shop what are the chances of it being genuine zari? Quite slim, according to a survey, and the survey results showed that 60 per cent of zaris are fake. The fake zari racket is rampant all over India, with 78 per cent of saris sold in Chennai being counterfeit, followed by Hyderabad (69 per cent) and Mysore (45 per cent).

Hence let us first find out as to how many types of zaris are there. The four types of zari commonly used in all silk sarees are: a) Pure zari b) Tested zari c) Powder zari d)

Plastic zari

The cost of pure zari ranged from Rs.10,000-13,000/kg, imitation zari Rs.600-800/kg, powder zari Rs.2000/kg and plastic zari is Rs. 350-500/kg. Nowadays the zari sari embroiderers have given the prevalent threads a number of names such as sachcha kam refers to work with real gold zari, jhootha kam refers to copper plated wire, while nakli kam refers to lurex wire or plastic is called rangin kam. 
The composition of different varieties of zari is presented here under:

a) Pure zari: This is also known as real zari. The centre core of pure zari is made up of degummed twisted red or yellow mulberry silk yarn; over which silver lametta and badla (flatten wire) is wound. The silver zari threads are electroplated with pure gold solution, to produce gold zari.BIS ( Bureau of Indian Standards) have even specified the colour and denier of the silk to be used in the core. As per them, the silk core is two ply 16/18 soft twisted yarn dyed in a red or yellow colour. As per them the zari is called pure zari only when the percentage of pure silver is not less than 50 percent of the mass of the zari material. In case the silver is coated with gold, the gold content shall not be less than 0.5 per cent of the zari material. 

b) Tested zari or Half Fine Zari: It is also called imitation zari because it has the external features of real zari and thus, resembles the real zari in terms of shine. This variety is similar to real zari except copper lametta used in place of silver and silver gilding is done on copper wire. For gold zari, the tested zari is electroplated with gold solution. In commercial terms, this is called `tested zari'. The gaudy shine is produced by treating the zari chemic alloy and the ‘gold’ borders become lack-lustre within five years.

c) Powder zari or Imitation Gold Zari: The manufacturing process of powder zari is similar to tested zari, where in powder gilding is done on imitation zari in place of gold gilding. Thus artificial gold colour powder is superimposed to get the lustre and brilliance. This does not last long and it gets black in short time with use. It is quite cheap and mostly used on rayon fabrics. It almost resembles zari. 

d) Plastic zari: The manufacturing process is more or less same as other varieties. In this variety plastic thread is used as lametta instead of copper or silver. In this small thin plastic strips are superimposed in gold colour or in different assorted colours and made into zari. These are marketed under different trade names such as Rexor, Lurex etc.

e) Neem Zari: These yarns are used extensively in many branches of textile industry from wide weaving to narrow ribbons, embroidery, braids, knitting, twisting, laces, and inner gimp decoration.

Pure gold zari is the costliest of all and half fine gold is less costly in comparison. Imitation and plastic zari is cheapest among all. It is very difficult to distinguish between pure gold zari and half fine zari. When a pure zari is burnt, the residue will give pure silver and gold, whereas half fine gives copper and very low percentage of gold. The last gives nothing but only ashes. Also the imitation zari will easily break when stretched between fingers.

The most tried and tested way to know for a fact what kind of Zari you have in your sari is to burn it, but clearly that is not a very productive method, so alternatively, you can:
ASK – Ask the salesperson what kind of zari it is, and depending on their reputation they’ll be happy to help you out.

FEEL – Feel the sari. Pure Zari melts with the thread of the sari to create one beautiful, cohesive stretch of silk. Pure zari is soft, smooth, and has a beautiful shine which reflects light, but isn’t gaudy. Pure zari will also change into different tones under different lights try moving it around under the lights. Tested Zari is a touch more stiff to touch and won’t bend and flow as well as pure zari.

WEIGH – Pure silk sarees with pure zari are going to be much heavier than those with tested zaris.
Price – Pure zari is much more expensive! Of course, there is the question of “what if the shop keeper is taking me for a ride?”  In order to avoid this, shop at stores which are renowned for their silks, like Nalli, Paalam, Sundari Silks, Kanakavalli, Kumaran Silks, Tulsi Silks and so on. I have shopped in all the above stores and have never been disappointed or swindled.. For example, Nalli Silks, the famous 88 year old sari shop of Chennai, that has about Rs 900 crores of annual turnover, guarantees a 60 per cent silver content in the zari used in its saris. Another mark of gurantee, is to insist, that the zari-sari you buy, should have the ISI mark for the silk zari-saris made in India, (laid down in 2007), with recommendations of purity standards by a committee set up by the Ministry of Textiles. In this ISI mark, standards have been fixed for silk and zari for the first time in the country to prevent consumers from being cheated by unscrupulous traders.

Surprisingly there is only one automated machine factory – Tamilnadu Zari Ltd which has made an electronic machine to test the zari in your sari!
Unfortunately, as yet the special zari-test machines are not being used by most of the well-known sari shops in India, which feel offended, at any suggestion, that the quality of their zari saris could be doubted.